Van Buren girls' basketball coach alleges sexism as reason for his removal

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Tyler Sapp coaches the Van Buren County' girls basketball team during a game at Marion County in February 2017.

Tyler Sapp's five seasons guiding the girls' basketball program at Van Buren County High School include being honored as District 5-A coach of the year after the team went 24-3 in 2020-21.

But just one week from the start of a new season, Sapp was informed he will no longer be the Eaglettes' head coach. Sapp said the reason he was given by Cheryl Cole, director of schools for Van Buren County, is that the program needed to have a woman as head coach.

"Monday afternoon, I was called into a meeting with Director Cole, our principal (Katina Simmons) and assistant principal (Drew Campbell) and was told that we needed to talk about the direction of the girls' basketball program," Sapp said. "Director Cole said that there was a rumor that some parents were starting a petition to have me removed because they wanted a female head coach. I thought that was odd because I've not had a parent complain about anything other than their kid's playing time since I've been the coach.

"She said the community feels like there needs to be a woman in charge of the program. I said 'You can't do that, it's sexist and it's wrong.' She said they were making the change anyway but that I could remain on as an assistant.

"My question is, if people really were uncomfortable with me as the girls' coach, then why would I be allowed to stay on as an assistant? I had three female assistants so that the girls on the team would have women they could talk to if there was ever anything they were uncomfortable talking to me about."

photo Staff photo / Cheryl Cole coaches the Van Buren County girls' basketball team during a game at Arts & Sciences in February 2014.

Sapp informed the team on Monday afternoon, and Cole, the program's head coach from 2013-16, ran the Eaglettes' practices that day and Tuesday. There has been no official announcement on whether she or someone else will coach the team this season, which tips off Tuesday at Soddy-Daisy.

Longtime assistant Cassandra Binkley resigned when she was informed of Sapp's removal. The team's other two assistants are former Van Buren players Jill Bouldin and Lakelyn Bouldin, who also played at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Cole and Simmons have not returned messages seeking comment.

Sapp, 30, who teaches physical education/wellness and one economics class at the high school, located in Spencer, had been the Eaglettes' head coach since the 2016-17 season, compiling an 86-65 overall record that includes the District 5-A championship last season, when the Eaglettes lost in the region tournament to Clay County, which later reached the state semifinals.

The Eaglettes have advanced to the region tournament each of Sapp's five seasons, coming within one win of reaching the state tournament in his first season. He worked as an assistant during Cole's final season as head coach in 2015-16.

"Director Cole ran the meeting," Sapp said. "I don't even remember if our principal or vice principal said anything. I was in utter shock when she said what she did, and I should have stopped the meeting once it became clear what it was about and asked that our athletic director (Dustin Sullivan) be present, because that was a situation where you would think the AD would be involved."

Sullivan declined to comment other than to say he was unaware of the decision to remove Sapp as coach until Sapp informed him after Monday afternoon's meeting.

"I love coaching and I love the kids in the school, but after the way this was handled by Director Cole, I just couldn't see myself staying on as an assistant coach," Sapp said. "I haven't spoken with an attorney yet, but I am weighing that option and will probably speak with one this week.

"I was evaluated last month, and in the seven years I've been a teacher and coach here, I've never had any issues. Something just doesn't feel right about all of this."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

photo Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Tyler Sapp coaches the Van Buren County girls' basketball team during a game at Marion County in February 2017.